A Storied Building

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, we’re pleased to present one of the many entries focusing on civil rights from the forthcoming Buildings of Virginia: Valley, Piedmont, Southside, and Southwest volume, by Anne Carter Lee and contributors.


Robert Russa Moton Museum (Moton High School)
1939. 900 Griffin Blvd., Farmville, Prince Edward County

Farmville’s one building of national importance is an unprepossessing landmark, a modest structure on the principal street of African American houses and businesses. This, the first building constructed for the secondary education of African American children in Prince Edward County, was named for Robert Russa Moton, a Prince Edward native who succeeded Booker T. Washington as president at Tuskegee Institute. The school was the scene of an opening chapter in the civil rights movement. On April 23, 1951, Barbara R. Johns led fellow students in a strike to protest insufficient funding and crowded conditions in the facility, including classrooms in temporary wooden buildings behind the single-story brick school. Moton was conspicuously smaller than Farmville High School, built for whites in 1937, despite comparable populations of school-age children. Johns was influenced by seminal thinking on racial equality by Vernon Johns, another Prince Edward native and Martin Luther King Jr.’s predecessor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The strike resulted in Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP including Prince Edward County in the case for racial integration in U.S. public schools, ultimately heard by the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education.

The one-story U-shaped brick building has a recessed arched entrance flanked by groups of four large windows, in turn framed by slightly projecting brick end pavilions. The building contains four classrooms in the front section, an auditorium in the center, and two classrooms and a restroom in each rear wing. The building is now an outstanding museum dedicated to the history and preservation of civil rights.

Spring in Virginia

Winter took a long time this year to loosen its grip—only five or six weeks ago we were shoveling snow—but we are currently enjoying a spectacular spring in Virginia. While this perfection lasts, we wanted to get some thoughts on spring in the Commonwealth from Ben Greenberg, photographer and author of Natural Virginia, a collection of his stunning panoramic photography. Ben is uniquely qualified to appreciate the particular qualities of spring in Virginia. He writes:

I have two favorite seasons of the year: spring and fall. It is pretty obvious why I enjoy fall but one might be surprised why I consider spring the more exciting and surprising season, the one I look forward to more than any other.

There is no doubt that my love for spring is at least partially due to my response to winter, which only seems to excite me when there is a snowfall that turns the natural environment into a visual wonderland. When the more common bleak and cold winter gives rise to the beginning of spring, I can feel all of my senses literally wake up and respond, especially my vision. I find it fascinating to view the process of spring, from buds on the branches to early colors that rival those of fall to the various shades of what I call “spring green” of leaves of every description. The constant changes of spring create significant challenges and demands. I work hard to respond to the changes to capture dramatic photographs with images that excite and motivate me.

Every stage of the emerging spring fascinates me. I never tire of viewing the process of the world around me literally coming to life. I enjoy the process of spring arriving first in the valleys and lower elevations and then watching it climb the hills and mountains until it arrives at the highest elevations as much as a month later. This process gives me many opportunities to capture moving and colorful images of the world around me throughout Virginia. I also become aware at such times that elevations around the state sometimes surprise you in how they impact the timing of spring, especially in the Shenandoah Valley and in Southwest Virginia where normal elevations rival those of the mountains.

I also love to photograph water in every form and location in which we find it: rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, ponds, and surf at the beaches. The attraction of waterfowl to water makes my opportunities to photograph it even more interesting. The activity of waterfowl in spring, especially around nest building and babies, provides new and challenging photographic opportunities, ones that couldn’t be any more different than landscape photography. My attraction in recent years to photographing waterfowl has increased with every season, including spring.

Waterfalls are particularly interesting in spring. While I enjoy photographing them at other times of the year, it is in spring that waterfalls have more water as a result of the winter and spring precipitation. This contrasts with the greatly reduced flow in fall due to the drier conditions of summer. The increased flow in spring sometimes creates unusual photographic opportunities with heavy mists created around the increased falls. It is also true of the flow of rivers.

It is always disappointing to me when I realize that the spring greens are turning to the sameness of summertime green that surrounds us in every possible way. The photography of spring ends and one is then faced with the challenges of summertime photography.

More of Ben Greenberg’s photography may be found here. Read more about the book Natural Virginia here.

Preservation Award to Buildings of Vermont

Glenn Andres and Curtis Johnson have received a Preservation Award from the Preservation Trust of Vermont for their work on the recently published Buildings of Vermont volume.  The awards, presented at the Trust’s 20th Annual Historic Preservation & Downtown Conference on May 2, in Island Pond, Vermont, celebrate outstanding contributions in the field of historic preservation and recognize individuals and organizations that have been instrumental to the preservation of Vermont’s historic places. A video presentation on the book can be viewed below.

Dolley Madison: The Fame Years

Rotunda’s Dolley Madison Digital Edition, edited by Holly C. Shulman, has been updated with 158 new documents, 543 new and revised identifications of people, places, and terms, and two new editorial essays.

This seventh installment takes the reader through 1845. By the end of the year, Dolley was settled in the nation’s capital, and would never return to Montpelier—or any other place in Virginia. She had established a close friendship with President Tyler, and after James K. Polk was inaugurated on 4 March 1845, she created a warm relationship with both the president and his wife. In addition, the reader may follow her friendships and her social life, and how she dined and partied with the elite of the Polk administration. She continued to receive requests for autographs, both hers and her husband’s, and received dedications for books and poems. This is the Dolley Madison of fame.

Concurrently, Dolley lived a far different private life. Her financial situation was precarious. Her brother-in-law, General William Madison, had filed suit against her, and that proceeded even after William’s death. She asked for loans, and could only repay her debts in small amount. Her finances shot, her son still in Virginia, her slaves divided between Henry Moncure, John Payne Todd, and herself, she considered emancipating her husband’s valet, Paul Jennings, but in the end rented him out to President Polk.

The image above was painted a half century after her death. The illustrator, Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, depicted Dolley presiding over a ball held on 8 December 1812 and imagined her accepting the colors of the just-captured British vessel Macedonia, walking toward it in readiness to stamp on the British flag. The ball did take place, the flag was brought there, but Dolley never trod on it, nor did James Madison even attend. The picture reflects one of the myths that by 1845 had grown up around Mrs. Madison.

Texas Joins Archipedia

With the 2014 annual meeting in Austin just over a month away, we are happy to announce the addition of 1,319 building entries covering roughly half of the state of Texas to Rotunda’s SAH Archipedia, with 50 of these accessible via SAH Archipedia Classic Buildings. This material comprises the full text of the recently published Buildings of Texas: Central, South, and Gulf Coast. Additional photographs will be added in the months to come. The first of two Buildings of the United States books devoted to the Lone Star State, this volume includes four major cities (Austin, Corpus Christi, Houston, and San Antonio), surveys a range of building types and styles from Spanish missions to modern skyscrapers, canvasses everything from the Alamo and the Johnson Space Center to the Menil Collection/Rothko Chapel and the O. Henry House, and highlights such topics as Texas dance halls, faux bois (false wood) art, cattle and ranching, and barbecue.